Ireland, Part 5 (Maintaining My Lists)

On July 29, 2014 · 0 Comments

I couldn’t change my personality quirks even though I changed my location. In fact, a few peculiarities rooted in my mild compulsion to count and collect seemed to be enhanced in this kind of situation. I searched earnestly for attractions aligning with those interests and pursued a means to incorporate them into the larger itinerary. They didn’t dominate the trip, however they always lurked below the surface.

Several lists grew.

Valentia Island Ferry



The Valentia Island Ferry (map) represented a couple of new achievements for me. It was my first international car ferry ride and the first time I’ve entered a ferry while driving on the left side of the road.

I love ferries and I enjoyed the brief 800 metre ride from Knightstown on Valentia Island to Renard Point, Cahersiveen on the mainland. I wondered about its true purpose, though. A bridge at the other end of Valentia Island connected it to the mainland at Portmagee. My rough calculation demonstrated that this seaborne route saved maybe 24 kilometres at the most optimistic end of the spectrum, only for the two hundred residents of Knightstown. Everyone else saved less. That didn’t seem cost effective.

The explanation dawned on me as I reviewed the ferry’s Facebook page. It ceased operations during the colder months, roughly October through March. Thus, the ferry didn’t exist solely for Island residents although it certainly added a level of convenience. Rather, it served more as a means of bleeding tourists away from the Ring of Kerry and onto Valentia Island where they would hopefully stay at a local Bed and Breakfast, stop at a pub, or stroll along the strand of shops in Knightstown, leaving a stream of Euros behind in their wake. Well done, Valentia Island.

I added another ferry to my Personal Ferry Travelogues.


Torc Waterfall



I’d consider my waterfall list to be somewhat less compulsive than other things I track. I won’t seek them out exclusively, although I’ll gladly stop if one happens to be nearby and doesn’t involve a hassle. Torc Waterfall met those parameters perfectly. I could access it from a car park set directly along the Ring of Kerry in Killarney National Park, then take an easy walk lightly uphill for about 300 metres (map). We snagged the only available parking spot in the small lot during the height of Summer tourist season. It felt like it must have been preordained.

A healthy stream cascaded 20 metres down several ledges to the base of Torc Mountain. We paused for awhile to ponder its majesty and then took a path to the top of the waterfall for a little extra perspective. Then we returned to the car park and walked across the road to the jaunting car stand. We hired a driver to guide us through the grounds of Muckross House in a horse-drawn carriage. That was a great way to finish the afternoon.

The Waterfall Collection increased by one.


Breweries



Longtime 12MC readers already guessed that I’d focus some love and attention on breweries and brewpubs, however there weren’t as many of those available in Ireland as one might expect. The microbrewery concept seemed to be getting a decent foothold, although it remained years behind what I’ve experienced elsewhere. Dingle Brewing fell directly on our path and we stopped for a self-guided tour of their small facility in a former creamery building (map). Dingle Brewing produced only a single beer as of our visit, Tom Crean’s lager, and we enjoyed a pint at their outdoor biergarten.



The Smithwick’s brand originated at the St. Francis Abbey Brewery in Kilkenny (map), although it’s part of a brewery conglomerate today and is made elsewhere too. Brewery tours were suspended during our visit because of renovations — as I’d learned ahead of time when conducting my research — so we hadn’t gone out of our way and nobody felt disappointed. The brewery walk-by happened coincidentally while we strolled between Kilkenny Castle and St. Canice’s Cathedral. It didn’t "count" as a brewery visit although I can never resist taking a photograph of anything breweriana.



I also sampled several beers in traditional pub settings, such as these pints of cask ale from West Kerry Brewing.

Someone will probably ask so I’ll go ahead and answer preemptively: No, I didn’t visit the Guinness brewery. First, actually foremost, I don’t like crowds and we drove away from Dublin as soon as the plane landed. That made it impossible to visit Guinness. Second, I’m not a fan of doing what everyone else does just because everyone else does it. I didn’t visit Guinness, I never got near the Blarney Stone and I approached the Ring of Kerry on my own terms. That’s how I do things. I keep away from crowds and I count stuff.

My brewery visits increased by one, plus a near miss and some nice tries.

Maybe only my lighthouse list didn’t grow. I had some candidates in mind and the scheduling never seemed to work out. Overall I think I scored well on my various lists, though.

Ireland, Part 3 (Wild Atlantic Way)

On July 24, 2014 · 0 Comments

Ireland set a tourist route along its western edge between Donegal and Cork the "Wild Atlantic Way." Distinctive signs including a logo of what appeared to be something like ww — although stretched out farther like waves — marking the path. We didn’t follow the route purposely although we encountered its roadsigns often as we explored peninsulas and islands where water met land with spectacular results.

Achill Island

We came upon Achill Island (map) by happenstance. The runner of the family wanted to race in Ireland and discovered through some Internet sleuthing that the Achill Half Marathon would take place during our visit. Otherwise I’m sure we wouldn’t have learned about Achill. We would have missed an opportunity to experience a pretty awesome place.



Ashleam Bay

It almost seems like I’m giving away a secret, and I’m feeling a little guilty simply for revealing the existence of Achill Island even to the trusty members of Twelve Mile Circle audience. The views were spectacular, as dramatic as any seacoast we saw anywhere in Ireland including those famous places featured prominently in the tourist guides. However we never felt crowded on Achill. There were a handful of B&B’s and small hotels along with summer cottages spread amongst a sparse permanent population. We drove to scenic overlooks, hiking along ridges and through historic sites, hardly ever encountering another person.



Keel Beach

We stayed in Keel, with direct access to Keel Beach (map) literally a walk across the back yard. Just look at this Blue Flag beach! There would be high-rise condos and a hundred times more people just about anywhere else in the world with that beach and that backdrop. I hated leaving Achill Island, although grateful for encountering it by blind luck.

Don’t tell anybody. We’ll make it our little secret.


Dingle Peninsula



Farther south, we drove along the full extent of the southern edge of the Dingle Peninsula. I’m saving other stories from the peninsula for different installments so I won’t go into a lot of detail. The scenery was also impressive. We began to experience the tour buses, though. Getting stuck behind those buses as they slowed to a crawl on serpentine roads became frustrating and tiresome after awhile. It wasn’t a lot of fun staring at the back of a bus instead of mountains and ocean. We stopped frequently at overlooks to let the buses pull off into the distance, savored the terrain and returned to the route.


Ring of Kerry



Ladies View, Killarney National Park

Of course we made the obligatory pilgrimage to the next peninsula farther south, to the renowned Ring of Kerry. It’s famous and for well-deserved reasons, for picturesque seacoasts, hillsides and inland lakes. It also attracted an order of magnitude more tourists than Dingle, again with the buses that lumbered around the ring in a constant anticlockwise procession. We understood that situation in advance and planned around it.

We drove the northern segment from Killarney to Portmagee (map) early in the morning before any buses began their daily circuit of passengers who preferred to leave the driving to the professionals. I could sympathize with that. The roads were narrow, winding and a little scary at times when trucks passed in the opposite direction on hairpin curves. That never deterred me though. We had to catch a boat heading to the island of Skellig Michael so the plan worked out perfectly for us. We also experienced the incredible scenery of Killarney National Park on those same scary roads on a different day, going between Kenmare and Killarney (map).

I didn’t complete the loop, however, having to forgo the southern segment because of our over-packed itinerary. We saw a lot of it from the sea and figured that was good enough.


Beara Peninsula



Beara was the next peninsula in line to the south. People told us the Ring of Beara rivaled the Ring of Kerry, without the crowds. That one will have to wait until the next trip though. We saw it only from the sea and only from a distance.

That gave me another good reason to return someday.

4 Nations, 2 Tripoints, 1 Lake

On July 15, 2014 · 0 Comments

I thought I’d written an article about Africa’s Lake Chad a long time ago so I was surprised to see it still listed on my potential topics spreadsheet as I culled through it recently. A quick search of the 12MC WordPress database found minor references to Lake Chad and little else. I guess I should address that oversight.



Lake Chad Area

The basin feeding into the lake is endorheic. Water falling here doesn’t have an outlet to the sea. Instead liquid drains to the lowest point of elevation in the typical manner, in this case a depression in the earth caused by tectonic forces, to create Lake Chad. Calling it a lake might be a bit misleading as it includes a mixture of smaller lakes and ponds and pools and marshes and mud. Lake Chad grows and contracts as rain falls or it doesn’t, in an annual cycle of wet and dry seasons, through times of abundance and times of drought. This is a very shallow lake, only 10.5 metres (34 feet) at its deepest point, so expansion or contraction can be quite dramatic even within a single year during the interplay between evaporation and replenishment.

The Lake Chad Basin Commission proposed three Lake Chads, a set of variations noted as small, medium and large Lake Chad.

Lake Chad covers less than 10% of the area it occupied in 1960… The current Lake Chad is an ordinary "small Lake Chad", as it has been several times in the past. It has hardly witnessed any major changes since the beginning of the Sahelian drought of 70 years, except for minor seasonal and interannual fluctuations which are typical of its normal functioning.

Other sources sounded considerably less optimistic. The United Nations’ AfricaRenewal described it as "one of the most important agricultural heritage sites in the world, providing a lifeline to nearly 30 million people" and noted "The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has called the situation an ‘ecological catastrophe,’ predicting that the lake could disappear this century" Whether natural cycle or permanent situation, this dwindling freshwater reservoir contributed to international tensions.


Drawing Lines


lac tchad
lac tchad by barth1003, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

European colonial powers all wanted a piece of the lake, an unusually large source of water near the southern rim of the Sahara Desert. That transformed into four different African nations sharing Lake Chad once colonial powers relinquished control: Nigeria, Niger, Chad (or Tchad) and Cameroon. It also created two different tripoints within the lake: a Nigeria, Niger, Chad tripoint; and a Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria tripoint. Two of the nations do not share a border. Niger and Cameroon are separated by about 85 kilometres (53 miles).

I wondered about the unusual northern appendage of Cameroon that extended up to Lake Chad like a sipping straw. This traced back to European control too, an artifact of German possession of "Kamerun" for several decades prior to the First World War. The United Kingdom also grabbed a corner of the lake in the formation of Nigeria and France behaved similarly with respect to Niger and Chad. Thus three European powers near the turn of the Twentieth Century coveted the waters, carved the land into colonies, and set the stage for its current international configuration.



That northern notch of Cameroon carried an appropriate name, the Région de l’Extrême-Nord, meaning Extreme North Region or Far North Region when converted into English (both are used). The northernmost department of this region was Logone-et-Chari. The department also had a northernmost settlement, Blangoua, along the Chari River near the point where it emptied into Lake Chad itself. That was the end of the road, as extremely north as one could settle in the extreme north of Cameroon. I found a YouTube video about this isolated Cameroonian outpost, or at least I think that’s what I found because it was in French. Regardless, the imagery provided a fascinating window on the people who lived along the lake.


Implications

Four nations sharing a valuable resource had to find a way to cooperate. This led to the creation of the Lake Chad Basin Commission:

The mandate of the Commission is to sustainably and equitably manage the Lake Chad and other shared water resources of the Lake Chad Basin, to preserve the ecosystems of the Lake Chad Conventional Basin, to promote regional integration, peace and security across the Basin.

Nonetheless peace and security have been at risk in the last several years because of the rise of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, including the Lake Chad border area. As noted by Cameroon Info.Net:

Using porous borders with Chad, Niger and Cameroon in the desolate scrubland around Lake Chad, they are smuggling bigger weapons, staging cross-border raids, killing and kidnapping in an escalation of violence that could further draw Nigeria’s neighbours into its counter-insurgency fight, security officials say.

Reuters reported that Cameroon was sending 700 soldiers into the Extreme North in March 2014 "as part of a regional force to tackle armed groups in an area where Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram operates."

The future looked pretty scary in the Lake Chad region.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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